07/05/2012 01:26 EDT | Updated 07/29/2014 04:59 EDT

Alexandre Despatie Head Injury: Return To Play Plan Works For Olympian

After weeks of deliberation following a concussion, athlete Alexandre Despatie has been deemed fit to dive for the Canadian team in this summer's Olympic Games in London.

"It was a bit overwhelming, but I'm very happy that you guys are proud of me and I'll do everything I can to make you proud still," Despatie said Thursday at a press conference in Montreal.

Concussions and head injuries remain an inexact science, making it all the more frightening when athletes who intend to compete go right back into their usual routine. Fortunately for Despatie, however, it seems he followed a strict regimen that should stave off any after-effects, like those seen with hockey player Sidney Crosby earlier this year.

"It looks like he's following the right return-to-play protocol for people who have had concussions," Dr. Greg Wells, a physiologist who focuses on elite athletes. The author of "Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets From The World's Best Athletes" has been doing work on concussions at Toronto's Hospital For Sick Children, and admits there is still much to learn.

"Some people say that in addition to the physical structure of the brain, there’s a metabolic change, a chemical change inside the brain that we’re trying to diagnose," he explained to The Huffington Post Canada.

This could have something to do with Despatie's initial announcement that his doctors had warned him to stay away from his phone.

A recent study noted that when a cell phone was held up to the head, the regions nearest that area showed a higher rate of glucose consumption, reported Time magazine.

While Dr. Wells hesitates to draw too many conclusions from these findings, he does note it's a good idea to avoid external changes in the metabolism of the brain when recovering from a head injury. He is, however, confident in Despatie's abilities to perform to his highest level at the Games.

"Alex does have a tremendous amount of experience -- he broke his foot in the month leading to the 2008 Olympics and went on to win a silver medal, so he’s had experience dealing with injuries leading into an Olympic Games. If he follows the guidelines, the prognosis is excellent there will not be long-term problems."

SEE: The six-step return-to-play program described by Dr. Wells for those with head injuries:

Photo gallery Return To Play For Head Injuries See Gallery

Stop Competing And Rest

The first thing to do to start recovering from a head injury, says physiologist remove yourself from the competition or sport and get home to start resting.

Rest For The Body And Head

Resting isn't just a matter of sitting around watching TV, though. "It's not just traditional physical rest but also mental," says Dr. Wells. "We have to have people avoid screens, including phones, televisions -- even reading can be difficult. Screens typically will flash at you at 30 frames per second, so if you think about 30 bursts of light hitting the eye per second, and that then hitting the brain -- that's not going to be restful."

Light Exercise

Once you've been symptom-free for a good amount of time -- typically around a week and a half, light cardio exercise, like walking, can be attempted.

Intense Exercise

If the light exercise can be completed without symptoms returning -- things like nausea, headaches and dizziness -- more intense exercise is allowed.

Competition Simulation

For anyone recovering from a head injury, going right back into the main event would be overwhelming, so Dr. Wells recommends a competition simulation to get used to the adrenaline rush, not to mention the physical requirements, of an eventual (live) competition.


Once the athlete has followed each step in the program and completed it without feeling any symptoms, they can return to competitions, much like Despatie will be doing for the Summer Olympics. Most importantly, Dr. Wells points out, was his commitment to getting better. "Following these return to play guidelines helps gets the message out about how they should be managed," he says.